As the Broncos' rookie class take the field on Friday, most of the limited media spectators will train their eyes on the cornerback group to get a glimpse of the team's first draft pick, Pat Surtain II, in action.
Not far from him, though, should be a little-known college free agent out of North Carolina A&T who brings a lineage perhaps even more impressive than that of Surtain and his Pro Bowl father.
Franklin McCain III goes by "Mac," but his full name shows the clear connection to a man who helped change the course of history in America as one of the "Greensboro Four."
The original Franklin McCain, Mac's grandfather, and three of his friends, all of whom were NC A&T students, walked into a Woolworth store in Greensboro in 1960 and sat down at the whites-only lunch counter to protest the store's segregationist policies. The protest grew over the days that followed and helped force a widespread confrontation with segregationist policies as the Civil Rights Movement took shape.
"My grandfather was a real thinker," Mac said in a recent NFL 360 feature. "He always had the end goal in mind when he did stuff, so in 1960, him and his friends challenged each other to change the world. They did that by coming down to the Woolworth and sitting down at the whites-only counter, and they refused to get up. They took a stand against segregation."
At A&T's campus, it's not hard to see reminders of this proud legacy. The school's Aggie Village residential complex has a unit that bears his late grandfather's name, and a 15-foot-tall monument of the Greensboro Four has stood on the west end of the campus since 2002.
"It brings me great pride to know that my grandfather was one of the Greensboro Four," McCain said. "The protest of four North Carolina A&T students sparked the Civil Rights Movement. As I take my next steps in life, they're going to be right there with me. Men who changed the game and, more importantly, changed the world. And I'm proud to walk in those footsteps."
A three-time All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selection, McCain has promising talent. In his first season, he started all 12 games and recorded six interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. During his three seasons for the Aggies, he showed a knack as a ballhawk as he recorded 30 pass deflections and eight interceptions.
If he can continue to produce at that kind of level, McCain will carve out an undeniable role in the NFL. The Broncos' secondary appears to be stacked in 2021 with several talented veterans and a first-round pick, but the rookie could set himself on the track to earn a spot when an opportunity arises.
That possibility could connect him with an important line through Broncos history of players from historically black colleges and universities. Former Bronco Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, who attended Tennessee State, is the most recent HBCU alumnus who started at cornerback for Denver.
"HBCU football has been rich with talent for years," McCain said. "I grew up watching HBCU football. I watched a lot of great players go to the NFL and make an impact. Seeing other players make it to the NFL and making the best of their opportunity at an HBCU showed me that I can do it, too."
Below the Fold
Fellow Broncos CFA Nolan Laufenberg has an interesting story, too. The former Air Force Academy cadet is a Colorado native who was born just 11 miles from UCHealth Training Center, and his pro football hopes at one time seemed quite farfetched, as The Gazette’s George Stoia writes. "It's hard to describe it," Laufenberg's mother, Staci, told Stoia. "To see him have the ability physically and from a career perspective to have the opportunity to go play in the NFL — less than a percent of kids get to live out that dream and whether it's for two months or 5-10 years, it's incredible."